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“Follow Your Nose”

At a wrestling meet? Moi?

The University of Toronto held its 18th annual invitational wrestling meet on Saturday, November 15 [1997]. I toyed with the idea of, and actually set my alarm for, getting up early to hang around, chickenhawk-style, at the weigh-in, but perhaps more sensibly showed up at about 12:30.

I knew it was being held in the old gym, as opposed to the 20-year-old concrete bunker known as the Athletics Centre, but I also knew the only way into the old gym was through the main Athletics Centre checkpoint (shades of East Berlin). Studly bleach-blond guy behind the desk is shooting the shit with his friend on the civilian side of the barrier. I get the blond guy's attention, note his pristine-white wrist cast with what appeared to be a tattoo on it.

"Nice cast."
"Where is the wrestling?"
"Follow your nose," says the guy behind me.
"That way."
So I was Waved In.

The old gym, actually known as the Sports Gym, is like any high-school gymnasium. I thought I had my vibe more or less under control as I walked in. My philosophy is: Act as though there won't be any problems and there probably won't be. But, um, wrestling is a sport with a built-in gaydar. I was barely noticed as I stomped up onto the bleachers, but the day was young. I began my Spot the Fag game by clocking 1, a nerdy old guy paying way too much attention to the boy wrestlers.

Now, unlike some members of our diverse gay communities, I see nothing sexy at all in wrestling moves. Wrestlers, on the other hand, are divinity incarnate, at least until they open their gobs. It was an all-university crowd in attendance – Western, UofT, Queen's, McMaster – so you'd think they'd have half a brain, but most of them looked as cloudy-eyed and detached as typical Torontonians and sounded like wannabe Amerikanski homeboys or something out of John Steinbeck.

I attracted next to no attention. I surprised myself by being able to half-follow the action. This sport, like other complex human behaviours (grandmaster chess; Peter Greenaway film; cavalcade of celebrities entering Academy Awards), requires play-by-play for novices. Most of the time I was ahead of the refs in awarding points. We rarely did agree on number of points, and I couldn't supply a name for any given move, but this was way more than I had anticipated. (Further evidence also that I should be a ref of some kind. Why not? I'm already a pariah everywhere else.) Many, many wins-by-pins. Scores of 11-to-1 and 12-to-0 were not uncommon.

A couple of moms in the stands with alarmingly young children. Some dads. Tons of extremely loud coaches shouting advice nonstop to wrasslers in action. Lots of guys psyching out the competition by stalking around in team T-shirts and such. (This was not merely a matter of staying warm.) Girlfriends being fondled. All-tomboy physio unit on-hand, except for one bear type.

Former Canadian Olympian and full-on dreamboat David Hohl showed up and talked to this chick for an hour. Dirty brown hair, strong nose, bright blue eyes. He later flipped scorecards for a while at one of the tables. Former wrestlers and/or wrestlers not competing that day walked around as if they owned the place, and you have never seen better-fitting jeans in your life.

Did it stink? Yes, actually, but I didn't object. Good honest sweat, etc. The Frankism "jock-sniffer" kept popping uncomfortably to mind.

The bleachers were killing my shoulder, which has a wee kink, and I was reminded again of my nonexistent pain threshold, rather at odds with what the lads were going through. Went for a piss, came back, got passed by a brick shithouse sprayed into a McMaster sweatshirt with a white cane and the blank expression common to people blind since youth. I decided to stand, model, and watch. This was fine.

Spotted Fag #1 came down to ground level to videotape an 18-year-old in his match (he lost). Spotted Fag #1 thereby began giving off simultaneous gay/father vibes. (Kid's gay uncle unrelentingly dedicated to his nephew and the sport of kings?)

Six pizzas were brought in to feed the multitude. Spotted-fag counter upped to 3 as one was seen in stands and another left. Several of the wrestlerboys were wearing these loud plaid warmup pants, which I guess has surpassed neon paint drizzles as hetero sweatpant pattern du jour.

I decided to head to the other side of the bleachers, knowing this would amount to running a gauntlet like a bimbo at a construction site. After exactly the reaction time it takes to come up with a line like this had passed, a rassler guy I'd just walked by nonchalantly said to his friend "That guy is..." and of course someone else spoke while the make-or-break adjective was uttered. This guy is what? On the way back, I contemplated a Heathers-style threading through the bleacher support rails, but decided this would look too obvious and could lead to an accusation that I was trying to blow up the gym (and Winona Ryder).

Rather a lot of injuries – seriously wrecked knee, minorly wrecked knee, slap on outside of cheek resulting in cut on inside. Multiple injury time-outs.

No wrestlers whatsoever registered even the tiniest microblip on my gaydar. Several were mindblowers and could, however, name their price in our diverse communities, an option some of them ought to pursue. (Aspiring bodybuilders do it.)

Exactly one pair of female wrestlers I saw, both deadly serious. Most losers not congratulated or even acknowledged by winners – and I thought this was a gentlemanly sport, what with all the handshakes and so on.

All the other Ontario rasslin' meets are far away, and I have no car. And I decided not to answer the personals ad in Xtra looking for companions on road trips to wrestling meets across Southern Ontario. As usual, I am of a group and apart from it, and I suggest the group of wrestling circuit-fags is one I ought to stay apart from.